Born in the U.S. in 1832 to parents who had come from Mexico and made their wealth by owning and working land, Ruiz de Burton grew up in class setting of relative privilege.
This ArticleMyriad biography starts when she got married to an American Army captain who led the invasion against Mexico in 1846 and was successful in securing his promotion by appealing directly to President Lincoln. As one can see, then, Ruiz de Burton moved in certain social circles and enjoyed the privilege afforded her by her socioeconomic status.
What makes Ruiz de Burton most interesting is the way in which she embodied and expressed contradictions, especially through her writing. Fully bilingual, Ruiz de Burton authored books that challenged conventional genres, including Who Would Have Thought It?, a combination memoir/satirical fiction that recounted her experiences living in the Northeast, and The Squatter and the Don, a thinly veiled social criticism in which Ruiz de Burton attacked the White upper class’s insistence that wealthy, landed Mexican Americans identify as White, thus rejecting their indigenous and Spanish roots. This issue was of great importance to Ruiz de Burton and would become the motif and fighting passion of her life. Ruiz de Burton insisted that wealthy Chicanos could be both: socially mobile and wholly, unashamedly Mexican. This view, of course, separated her from less prosperous Chicanos and from wealthy Whites.
It is this position that made Ruiz de Burton both compelling and controversial. Given that she embraced her own privilege while she had it (she died in poverty) and that she married an American military officer who took land from her native country, some of her ideological positions may have seemed hypocritical. She railed against U.S. corporate capitalism, land-grabbing imperialism, and the position of women in U.S. society, yet she benefited from all of these social structures.
These contrasts, however, are important, especially in retrospect, because they demonstrate that ideological and political debates that often get mired by limited perspectives of two opposing interest groups actually have many points and positions in between the two poles. Ruiz de Burton’s fearless expression of her own beliefs served as a way for other women to analyze their own feelings and needs with respect to the issues about which Ruiz de Burton wrote, and perhaps inspired them to find and use their own agency and voice. The fact that this was at the turn of the century makes Ruiz de Burton’s literary contributions all the more significant